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Can entrepreneurship be the key to a more sustainable world?

It is becoming increasingly common that companies claim to take a large societal responsibility. And entrepreneurship is often seen as a path to a more sustainable society; socially, economically, and environmentally. But is this really the case?

In his dissertation, Mathias Karlsson has followed IKEA’s initiative IKEA’s Partnership with Social Entrepreneurs to study the relation between entrepreneurship and social change. The initiative aims to identify and start collaborations with social entrepreneurs around the world, who in their turn try to help women improve their living conditions. The women who work in these social enterprises, manufacture products which are then sold in limited editions at some of IKEA’s department stores.

Karlsson’s study shows, among other things, that the initiative gives these women an opportunity to earn money, enroll their children in school, and enable them to take part of a social setting outside of their homes. These aspects in their turn contribute to making the women feel that their lives are more worthwhile than before.

Karlsson has also studied what it means concretely to try to create social change through entrepreneurship. What do you actually do at work when your job is to create a more sustainable world? The answer is that you must carry out a number of different activities which can sometimes be contradictory, and this requires a lot of effort from the employees.

Furthermore, Karlsson has studied how those pursuing social change through entrepreneurship relate ethically and responsibly to people’s different desires to lead worthwhile lives.

“I have carried out interviews with women who work in the social enterprises that have collaboration with the initiative, as well with the employees at IKEA who work with this. The results from my dissertation show that entrepreneurship has the potential to create responsible social change, but also that being successful in this work is extremely demanding and challenging for those involved”, says Karlsson.

“If responsibility and ethics is not given enough room, there is a risk that the entrepreneur neglects other people’s way of living and act irresponsibly. My study also shows that those involved feel frustrated about not being able to help as many people as they want; there are always more people living under poor conditions who will not be reached by the ongoing change work. This implies that entrepreneurship that pursues social change is deeply complex. However, my study shows that the people working with the initiative manage to handle the complexity because of their commitment and passion for making the world more sustainable. In addition, they use humour to enable them to deal with the complexity they face on a daily basis in their working lives”, Karlsson concludes.

In Karlsson’s opinion, the most important knowledge his dissertation contributes with is that it increases the understanding of how entrepreneurship can create responsible social change by being infinitely demanding. The idea of “infinitely demanding entrepreneurship” is based on a certain form of entrepreneurship being carried out by committed and responsible persons, which in its turn lead to more responsible social change.

Mathias Karlsson was born and raised in Alstermo, went to upper secondary school in Växjö and now lives in Kalmar.

Dissertation title: Infinitely Demanding Entrepreneurship


Mathias Karlsson, mobile +4670-978 10 02, email

Carina Sörgårn, communications officer research, phone +46470-70 85 52, email